Cotton Valley Rising Star
Alison Krauss and the Cox Family begat a pop prodigy: Brandon Ratcliff
You know the name Alison Krauss from her singing and fiddling on 14 albums (one of them a duo with Robert Plant) and appearances on numerous soundtracks. She has helped renew interest in bluegrass music in the United States.
The Cox Family, the Grammy-winning country/bluegrass household from Cotton Valley in Webster Parish, can be heard on the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack.
Ratcliff is the son of Suzanne Cox, mandolin and vocals, and youngest of the trio.
Growing up in the maelstrom of a performing family and with care from an even more famous family friend, Krauss, Ratcliff realized that his childhood in Cotton Valley, middle of nowhere Louisiana, was only step one in his destiny. Nashville was his goal.
And he is building a musical career that is both alike and different from Krauss and the Cox singers.
Handsome, blessed with a voice that can swoop up to hit the high notes that give a song its juice, Ratcliff became a capable guitarist. He then did what successful people in Nashville do: found amenable songwriting partners and began to craft his own tunes.
Says Shreveport music aficionado Grant Nuckolls, “He reminds me of John Mayer after he ‘went electric’ – poppy and current – with some nice guitar licks and definitely Nashville modern country sensibility.”
“My first actual dream job was to play professional basketball,” Ratcliff told All Access.
At the age of 20, the fledgling songwriter decided to turn down a publishing deal and work on his craft, “deciding he would not take the quick and easy route,” says Monument Records. He befriended Pete Good (producer and co-writer) and A.J. Babcock (co-writer). It’s a team who are closest friends outside of the studio.
Drawing from his background in country, R&B and classic rock, the trio began to write and produce records. Ratcliff’s personal inspirations such as Stevie Wonder and John Mayer are featured in a series of videos (recommended; they’re sweet) in which he covers “Rhiannon” and “Living for the City.”
He was raised listening to greats like Merle Haggard and Ricky Skaggs, but his mother exposed him to other genres that would mold him, he told Tiana Kennell.
“All of that was always there, but she wanted me to have an appreciation for all music, everything from AC/DC to Led Zeppelin to Fleetwood Mac to Stevie Wonder,” Ratcliff said. “I feel like I got a real good music education, in general, spanning all genres. The ones that always really stuck out to me were the soulful things – the blues world, the R&B world.”
He has been a Spotify success with “Rules of Breaking Up.” A tightly-composed piece of smart pop, it suits fans like Sarah Hensley, who says, “I love the mix of reggae rock with country.” To complete this song, Grammy Award-winning producer Shane McAnally (Kacey Musgraves) teamed up with Good- Babcock and Ratcliff. See the video “Rules of Breaking Up (Anatomy of a Song)” for deeper background.
Can’t go out and not be seen ‘cause you gotta give her space, uh huh
Can’t go back to being friends, it don’t work that way, uh huh
You can’t call her up tell her everything you’re thinking
Can’t show up at her place every time you’re drinking You can’t keep hoping that she might be calling by
Whoever wrote the rules of breaking up never kissed your lips
Touched your skin, held the world at their fingertips.
Cotton Valley, La., population 1,009, is at the center of “Slow Down, Hometown,” a mid-tempo charmer about returning home to find locals less than appreciative of his musical success.
Slow down, home town. Why you gotta move so fast? Tell me why it feels like I’m the only one looking back.
Oh, home, sweet home town; I hope that I made you proud.
I wish you well, it hurts like hell. But you’re somebody else’s now.
He knows the power of spitting lyrics like a rapper. And the impact of R&B and hiphop is apparent in most of his work. After all, he’s a Louisiana fellow.
The breakup-but-I’m-winning tune, “See Me Like This,” is built on tripping lyrics and attitude. He credits Stevie Wonder and the power of reggae for the energy in this tune.
So far, it seems that Ratcliff is stepping steadily toward widespread success. However, Nashville crossover pop is an intensely competitive arena.
He is watchable because his songs, his family and allies, voice and looks are in the right place. Speaking of looks and hooks, see his modified mohawk haircut at brandonratcliff.com and tell me if you think he’s not a fierce player.